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    When you get a flu shot this holiday season, you’re not only decreasing your own risk of getting sick from H1N1, the swine flu. You’re also giving the gift of health to your family, because when you get vaccinated, you’re also protecting your loved ones.

    When you get vaccinated, you help build a wall of protection for those you live with, work with, and even sit next to on an airplane.

    Since April, the Centers for Disease Control – http://www.cdc.gov/ –  reports, 10,000 Americans have died from the swine flu. Another 213,000 people have been sick enough to be hospitalized.

    “It’s important to understand that the vaccine’s not only for you, it’s also for those around you,” says the CDC’s Alan Janssen.

    Experts call it “the cocooning effect” because when you get a vaccine for flu – seasonal or H1N1 – you in effect are building an immunity wall for those you come in contact with, especially those you’re closest to. You’re not exposing them through yourself to the virus because you’ve immunized yourself.

    The opposite is equally true. When you get infected, you can pass the virus on to those you care about most.

    Gift of Health

    This is especially important for parents of newborn babies, who have little if any immunity to influenza for the first 12 months of life. In addition, infants under six months old cannot be vaccinated. To ensure protection for the baby, immediate household contacts (representing its cocoon) must vaccinate themselves against influenza so they won’t transmit the virus to the baby.

    The same is true for those in regular contact with elderly family members with compromised immune systems, the CDC’s Janssen says.

    While studies show the vaccine for H1N1 is 97 percent effective, older Americans can benefit from the additional protection of having their family members vaccinated.

    The upshot, Janssen says, if we all build a cocoon around ourselves and our families, we will be able to keep the swine flu from spreading further.

    “We’re trying to decrease the number of folks who can get influenza by having a vaccination,” he said. “That way you’re preventing it from getting into the community.”

    Gift of Health is supported by grants from The California Endowment – http://www.calendow.org/ – and California Community Foundation – http://www.calfund.org/.

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